I’m reading Robert Solomon’s Spirituality for the Skeptic for a book club meeting I’m going to later this month, and so far I don’t buy it (the argument, not the book). Solomon is a thoughtful philosopher, his intentions are good, and his arguments are sound. But I still don’t buy it.
The goal of the book is to sketch a broader view of “spirituality,” one that is not intrinsically religious or mystical, and to include secular skeptics (or, as we more often call ourselves, secular humanists) in it. There are several problems with this project, not the least of which is that the term “spiritual” is so intertwined with religion and mysticism that it is simply hopeless to try to rescue it.
Solomon acknowledges in the preface to the book that he finds “most of what passe[s] as spirituality something of a sham, fueled by pretension and dominated by hypocrisy.” Here here, brother. Nonetheless he enlists some of the big guns of philosophy, particularly Hegel and Nietzsche, to make the point that there are more genuine and productive ways to conceive of spirituality. Solomon wishes to “naturalize” spirituality starting from the standpoint that, in his words, “if spirituality means anything it means thoughtfulness” (p. 5). By this he seems to suggest that to be spiritual is to think about and appreciate the world as it is (as opposed to as how one wishes it to be). Spirituality in this sense is not just scientific or even philosophical inquiry -- though the two are necessary components of it -- but includes an aesthetic sense as well. So far so good, but why use the word “spiritual,” which immediately conjures up thoughts of, well, spirits? This is where I begin to lose Solomon (and it happens pretty early in the book).
For instance, the author says that forgiveness plays a role in spirituality. But he doesn’t apply forgiveness, as one might expect, just to what others do to you or to the world, i.e., to the agents of intentional actions. Solomon actually extends the concept of forgiveness to life itself, as in: “This is also true when the betrayer [of your trust] is not a person but life itself, when our hopes and expectations have been thwarted. … It means, through our actions and feelings as well as through our thoughts, forgiving the world” (p. 56). Come again? Even Solomon immediately realizes that this, as he himself puts it, smells of “implicit animism,” but that possibility doesn’t bother him because “even the most hard-headed materialists tend, in their personal dealings with the world, to be animists” (p. 56).
Oh no they don’t! First of all, I resent the “hard-headed” modifier to the term materialist, not so subtly suggesting that there is something wrong with materialism (in the sense of a naturalistic philosophy, not in that of Madonna’s “Material Girl”). Second, this is precisely what is questionable about attempting to co-opt a word like “spiritual” for purposes that most clearly are not reflected in its historical and cultural use. One ends up on a linguistic slippery slope that brings him perilously close to the sham, pretension and hypocrisy that Solomon decries at the beginning of the book.
Spiritual is in antithesis with material/natural, and it ought to be left that way; to talk about spirituality for the skeptic is simply not helpful. It plays straight into the hands of mystics and religionists who insist that there is something missing from a naturalistic worldview. There is nothing missing because there is nothing else to add. What we need instead is a new way to talk about how one can have an aesthetic and compassionate view of life, how one can be emotional in the positive sense of the word, and still understand the world through reason and empirical evidence. Indeed, an argument can be made that looking at the world the way it really is engenders true compassion and appreciation, freed of the distorting filters of mysticism and religion.
Still, we seem to need a new vocabulary to talk about the secular equivalent of spirituality, soul and the like. I think that there is a perfectly good sense in which, for instance, I am a “spiritual” person, or that listening to good music or reading a good book is good for my “soul,” and so on. But to use those terms is a cop out that I’d rather not engage in. Therefore, dear readers, what would you suggest we use as alternative words for terms like “spiritual” and “soul”? This is more than an academic exercise, you know. When my wife and I found ourselves through e-dating, we had both put “spiritual but not religious” on our profiles, and as a result had to wade through a pile of emails from new age fruitcakes before finding each other...
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Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Spirituality for the Skeptic?
Posted by Unknown at 4:54 PM
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I love the example you give with e-dating. I guess the double meaning of 'materialist' is the flip side of that coin. Since money fails to motivate me, I must be spiritual. I get reminded of Orwell's acute observations about language being used to make it impossible to say certain things. How about the tag - religious but spiritual? In other words someone who believes in God but is not motivated to do good by the fear of God's retribution, instead valuing the welfare of others for its own sake.ReplyDelete
Well, of course, I agree completely with your position. There's no way or reason to salvage the term "spritual" for the secularist. Words already pretty much exist to explain what we're talking about at least as well as "spiritual" does.
Obviously, words may never be able to capture every aspect of the human emotional world (which is what we're really talking about), but "spiritual" doesn't do any better job than some other possible word choices.
Personally, I think the term "inspirational or inspiring" is useful in expressing what people refer to as "spiritual". When I listen to great music, experience art or the beauties of the natural world, I often describe the feeling I have as transcendental. The thesausrus entry for "transcendent" contains a nice range of secular terms that are quite expressive for our purpose. Specifically: accomplished, beyond grasp, consummate, incomparable, primordial, sublime, supreme, unequalled, unparalleled, etc. And the antonyms are interesting also.
The full thesaurus entry for "transcendent" is below.
Happy New Year,
Main Entry: transcendent
Part of Speech: adjective
Synonyms: absolute, abstract, accomplished, beyond grasp, boundless, consummate, entire, eternal, exceeding, fantastic, finished, hypothetical, ideal, incomparable, infinite, innate, intact, intellectual, intuitive, matchless, obscure, original, otherworldly, peerless, perfect, pre-eminent, primordial, sublime, superior, supernatural, supreme, surpassing, theoretical, towering, transcendental, transcending, transmundane, ultimate, unequalable, unequalled, unique, unparalleled, unrivalled, whole
Antonyms: inferior, ordinary, simple
I am thinking that the term "spiritual" describes a subjective emotional experience.
Some naturalist-secular atheists may experience this emotional state despite not believing in gods, spirits, or embracing mysticism.
You simply may not experience these subjective emotional states, I don't either.
It seems to me that your need for a new vocabulary is a form of tribalism. “Spirituality” in the sense that is compatible with a materialistic belief system is also shared by many religious people. By insisting on a separate “untainted” word, you are emphasising what separates you (which I concede is plenty), rather than what you have in common (which may also be more substantial than you wish to admit), even in your use of the one word that describes that which you share in common.ReplyDelete
I find your use of the word tribalism a bit tendentious, but ok, I'm being tribalistic (??) here.
As you know, I don't actually think there is much in common between secular humanism and any religion, unless you are speaking of the fact that pretty much all human beings share the same emotions (but that isn't too informative as far as this discussion is concerned; we also share the same excretory anatomy, so what?).
More positively, I think it is important not to wash down the meaning of words, because then we demean certain traditions (including religious ones) and simply increase the general confusion.
Spirituality is not a general word describing the range of human emotions. It largely describes an attitude taken towards one's emotions. And this attitude can be similar for both secular and religious people. I like your quote from Solomon as "thoughtfulness" as a good description of this attitude.ReplyDelete
Of the various people I consider both religious and spiritual, all would see overlap between a materialist's spirituality and their own, so I am not too concerned on their behalf as to watering down their traditions. It seems to be only secularists like you who are too afraid to concede common ground. The existence of common ground need not threaten lines drawn in the sand on other counts.
Even though the word spiritual comes with a lot of baggage,I feel it may be too handy as a pointer to do without. To me it refers to a certain level of personal appropriation e.g., a proverb such as "a stitch in time saves nine" is easy to understand as far as the meaning of the words go, but such meaning can really come home in certain situations (like when you screw up really bad).
I also think of some of the sayings of philosophers, such as Marcus Aurelius ("No harm can come to a good man's life"), or probably even Epicurus and others. Or daily sayings like "you goota dig deep" or "live and let live", not to mention the many utterances of overtly religious figures.
I also wonder what to think of a philosopher like Sartre, many of whose utterances could be regarded as spiritual ( I realize of course that the term existential is available in that particular case, but looking over the whole field od what might be regarded as "philosophy of life" I wonder if there is really any handy term that can serve as a pointer?
Just an afterthought- the stoics, epicureans, and existentialists all provided some sort of philosophical framework for their ideas, but once again the idea of personal appropriation arises. Some ideas seem to be portable precisely because of the way they are received by people in their individual lives.
Hopefully this makes a little bit of sense.
I'm not afraid of anything in this context. I just don't like to use a word that to me is tainted by what Solomon himself calls nonsense, pretentiousness and hypocrisy.
Interestingly, I think secular new-agers are amongst the worst culprits of the "sham, fueled by pretension and dominated by hypocrisy". But whatever your word, and whichever group uses it, when you create high ideals they will sometimes degenerate to this. The problem goes deep and I do not thinking changing the words around on a regular basis does anything to fix it.ReplyDelete
"It seems to be only secularists like you who are too afraid to concede common ground"
Factually, I would say that religious groups that want or actively campaign for the conversion or elimination of all other religions to be the most unwilling to concede common ground, but that's neither here nor there.
The problem that I find with using words like "spiritual" and "soul" to describe my subjective experiences is that not only are they etymologically inaccurate, but in their implicit and/or historical invocation of the supernatural, such words cheapen my meaning. Let's say I'm on a hike and checking out the flora and fauna. There is a grandeur in the view that the remarkable adaptation of life around me is the product of natural selection over many eons. To know that tree, fungi, and humans shared a common ancestor is something that should make everyone stop and pause in wonder at some moment in their life. Ascribing to those experiences a supernatural component is an infinitely inferior joy. Our accumulated knowledge of the natural world illuminates the vast unknowns, while false certainty about the unknown (god, spirit, whatever) only obscures reality.
So yes, I am "afraid" (actually, unwilling) to concede common ground on this point with "spiritual" or "religious" people because they can't possibly appreciate the natural world as fully. That doesn't make them unethical, but I believe their lives are impoverished for it.
First another commenter mentioned "inspiring" but, of course, that is a derivative term from spiritual - it originally meant the spirit within.ReplyDelete
Slightly tangential I often hear newager friends say so and so is "spiritual" - which is intended as a label of commendation and respect. My response is "yes but are they wise?". To which they struggle by responding something like "how can someone who is spiritual not be wise?". (Of course that was tacit in the original "spiritual" label). I say very easily as wisdom is (a) about seeing the world as it really is, transcending one's preferences, prejudices and practices and (b) being able to appropriately apply this clarity of vision. Being spiritual is often although not necessarily a contrary to (a) regardless of (b). You can guess how the rest of the conversation goes.
So my suggestion is for us naturalists and secular humanists to aspire to wisdom. Of course aspire also has its roots in spiritual ;-)
I don't find anything bad in using "soul" and "spirit" to mean the complex of psychological phenomena taking place in our head. This is the way those words were used in ancient times, before the advent of monotheistic bigotry. It was a metaphorical and poetic use: not knowing about neurons and nuclear magnetic resonance, the life of the psyche was likened to the motion of some aethereal substance. Similarly, we use expressions such as "good-humoured" or "ill-humoured" even though the pre-scientific concept of "humour" is quite outdated. So, my proposal is to boldly use "soul", "spirit" and "spiritual" in non-religious contests, and to free those words from the ridiculous (materialistic!) attributes they received from theologians not smart enough to understand metaphors. (I am thinking here of the idea of the soul as a material essence surviving the decay of our body, that can possibly have physical properties such as weight).ReplyDelete
I confess that I feel quite spiritual when reading Nietsche or Schopenhauer. And also when tasting haute cuisine.
Dawkins' Unweaving the Rainbow perspective was enough for meReplyDelete
Chris, I agree that "religious groups that want or actively campaign for the conversion or elimination of all other religions" are also good contenders for least willing to concede common ground, but these are generally not the religious groups with a highly spiritual emphasis.ReplyDelete
You also must recognise that the grandeur in the evolutionary view of life is equally available to religious people who accept the theory of evolution, of whom there are many. And wonder need not have supernatural origins in order to be savored and cultivated, which is the essence of spirituality.
Martino, I don't see how one can succeed in "seeing the world as it really is" without a spiritual aspect to our efforts. We all have a tendency to see the world as we wish it to be rather than as it is. Without applying thoughtful introspection into these deep-seated wishes, we are unlikely to overcome them.
I'm with you 100% on the problems with the dislike of and even suspicion about "spiritual" language, Massimo. Moreover, I'm befuddled by why some of your readers/commenters are completely missing the point: It isn't that the terminology is necessarily tainted by it's long use in a supernatural context, it's that it is currently and in an ongoing fashion tainted by such confusions. Yes, some people mean something quite specific and not at all supernatural when they use the word "spiritual" - but those people are in a distinct minority.ReplyDelete
What I generally find so awful about "spiritual" language isn't the religious/supernatural connotations, it's that people mean so many bloody different things when they use the word: You cannot trust that anyone means by it what you think it means, so you're forced to ask for a definition every time the word comes up in any substantial discussion - and 9 times out of 10, the person who used the word defines it in such a muddled manner that even they cannot explain what they mean by it.
I think part of the problem may be that we are trying to come up with a single term for several quite different things that ought to be indicated by different words. For example, I don't necessarily think living with thoughtful attention to the moment is the same thing as being compassionate - although if Westernized Buddhists want to define "mindfulness" as a sort of 'term of art' to capture the conjunction of the two, that's perfectly fine. But does "mindfulness" so defined really have much in common with aesthetic experiences in general, or with the sense of awe and unity that I experience on a particularly good meditative nature hike, or...
Maybe the word "spiritual" is so problematic because it's a label for a conceptual muddle in the first place, even aside from the supernatural nonsense that is also often associated with it.
Hi Joanna MaselReplyDelete
I don't see how one can succeed in "seeing the world as it really is" without a spiritual aspect to our efforts. We all have a tendency to see the world as we wish it to be rather than as it is. Without applying thoughtful introspection into these deep-seated wishes, we are unlikely to overcome them.
You not seeing this is the problem I was identifying, is it not? You seemed to have missed my point and appear to be one of those who uses "spiritual" as a synonym for "wise"? Nothing I said implied that wisdom is not something that has to be worked act indeed I thought I was implying exactly that. Thoughtful introspection, granted the limitations of introspection, is highly likely to be one of those methods.
Now could you please explain to me what on earth being spiritual necessarily has to do with "seeing the world as it really is", most - but not all - notions of "spiritual" are the opposite - seeking to see beyond this world of "illusion" to a supposed world of wish fulfilment and not to seeing the world as it really is.
Given the choice between "wise" and "spiritual" surely the former leads to less confusions on this aspect than the latter and so should be preferred?
PS Massimo have you tried re-adding embedded comments? AFAIK it now works fine elsewhere and makes things much easier, especially when comment streams grow like this one. I am happy to test it for you to ensure it works.
ok, I'm trying again the embedded comments, which I agree is much better, if it works! Please, everybody, let me know if you have trouble with this feature by emailing me directly at email@example.com
There is a difference between believing the world is illusory rather than real and believing that how we currently see the world is an illusion colored by our preconceptions and preferences. Focusing on the latter lets us break through our prior assumptions and instead see the world as it really is.ReplyDelete
I agree with thinkmonkey, though, that many things are bundled together in the word spiritual. One of them is the cutting through of our preconceptions and illusions to arrive at wisdom. Another is a feeling of wonder and awe. Another is thoughtful attention to the present moment, which is both an end in itself and a means to many other ends. Of course, many religious spiritual traditions do in fact have specialised and highly precise words for many of these things, but these words and their nuances are not necessarily common across traditions. Word such as "spiritual" and "mystical" attempt to describe commonalities across traditions, and are somewhat doomed to become less precise in the process.
"many religious spiritual traditions do in fact have specialised and highly precise words for many of these things"
ok, I need to take you on for this one. Could you give us a couple of examples for these precise and specialized words? I'm going to bet that they are actually fuzzy and obscure... :)
Alright, I'll take an example from yoga. The word "samadhi" describes a mental state in which the ego is dissolved, and so you do not perceive the "self" in the normal way. This is generally considered to be a spiritual experience. Many fine distinctions as to what might accompany samadhi (ie what you get instead of the ego) are described in Yoga Sutras (although there is also some crap in there about superhuman direct perception of reality). The Sutras also describe methods for achieving this mental state, and the order in which you may expect to achieve different versions of it.ReplyDelete
Personally I think that words like spiritual and soul do have too much religious baggage. I have yet to come up with good alternatives and held out some hope at the top of this article that some viable choices would be shared. Now we seem to be scolded for even thinking that we need other terms. Bah! We need more precise words. I don't have a "soul", I have a personality. I am not spiritual but neither am I always thoughtful or wise. Heck, maybe I don't even have an attribute that would equate to a secular meaning of spiritual. I was hoping to hear a word that I could say "oh yes, that describes me."ReplyDelete
"...new age fruitcakes..."ReplyDelete
My biggest chuckle of the day. :-)
thanks for trying, but as you might have imagined, I have a problem with your example. First, "a mental state in which the ego is dissolved" can be caused by drugs, food deprivation and a variety of other phenomena. One could even describe dreams that way. And we know this is due to the proprioception sense of the brain shutting down. Don't find much either precise or spiritual about it.
Second, "although there is also some crap in there about superhuman direct perception of reality." Right, that's the problem in general with new age, mystical or religious spirituality. It's a mess, why on earth would I want to have anything to do with it?
I agree that spontaneous samadhi "can be caused by drugs, food deprivation and a variety of other phenomena." That is exactly why ascetics have often turned to such devices. So this is no argument against it.ReplyDelete
And although samadhi includes shutting down of proprioception, loss of proprioception alone is not samadhi. Here, taking again from the Yoga Sutras, a somewhat closer word might be pratyahara, normally translated as withdrawal of the senses. It is one of the steps along the way to samadhi. As I keep saying, precise words often exist, rather than lumping related but still disparate phenomena together.
Dreams fall in a different category. I complete agree we need more precise terms. But becoming knowledgeable about words that have already been used elsewhere seems a good place to start. Just because we don't share belief systems with a certain tradition, it doesn't mean that their careful analyses have nothing to teach us, if we pick and choose intelligently.
I find a use of the word "spiritual" I completerly agree with in one of the books of the Italian freethinker Odifreddi:ReplyDelete
"Jung says that religions are cures for the diseases of the psyche. From this the corollary follows, that a spiritually healthy person does not need religion."
Chris Muir: "So yes, I am "afraid" (actually, unwilling) to concede common ground on this point with "spiritual" or "religious" people because they can't possibly appreciate the natural world as fully. That doesn't make them unethical, but I believe their lives are impoverished for it."ReplyDelete
I'm no anthropologist but there are many native cultures who have been living much more fully with the natural world than most scientifically educated folks ever will, and their appreciation for that world is in no way diminished by their lack of scientific understanding. I'm in Alaska and the Inupiat & Yupik eskimo have solved some pretty amazing survival problems without any western science.
"I'm in Alaska and the Inupiat & Yupik eskimo have solved some pretty amazing survival problems without any western science."
I'm sure that's true, but I fail to see the point as far as this discussion is concerned. Since I'm not going to move to Alaska (especially after the latest publicity from that state during the presidential campaign...) does that mean I cannot be spiritual, or in awe, or whatever?
The illusion is, I think, that there is something other than a spiritual world and souls. And the evidence has something to do with each person's individual character attributes. Non-material things.
While one can say for certain that material things do go away, and we know that it is absolutely true, one cannot say for certain that things of a spiritual nature do.
Like I for instance, remember very distinctly what the spirit of my grandma (on my moms side) was like. Tho she passed on when I was six, her spirit(or spiritual attributes) are quite vivid in my memory.
Extremely patient, loving, kind, generous, always sees the best in people....speaking out Gods praises often at various times and places, has God's Spirit in her NO DOUBT about it.
I am as positive about that as I am that some people DO NOT have God's Spirit in them. I can see it and feel it and likely most of the time so can you.
...how we currently see the world is an illusion colored by our preconceptions and preferences. Focusing on the latter lets us break through our prior assumptions and instead see the world as it really is.
And that is the result of striving for wisdom, which is to transcend our preferences, practices and prejudices. There is nothing spiritual required to do this and often one's metaphysics is part of the problem and that needs to be transcended.
One of them is the cutting through of our preconceptions and illusions to arrive at wisdom.
We agree that "spiritual" has multiple meanings and apart from "wisdom", another of its meanings entail non-natural metaphysics, and, as just mentioned, this can also blind one to seeing reality as it is.
Another is a feeling of wonder and awe. Another is thoughtful attention to the present moment, which is both an end in itself and a means to many other ends.
Interesting that you did not mention metaphysical experience in your list but surely that is a very common meaning.
Massimo, "I'm sure that's true, but I fail to see the point as far as this discussion is concerned. Since I'm not going to move to Alaska (especially after the latest publicity from that state during the presidential campaign...) does that mean I cannot be spiritual, or in awe, or whatever?"ReplyDelete
Please. Implied was that spirituality (=awe/appreciation/respect for nature) is not dependent on knowledge of western science as Chris seemed to suggest. As you well know saying one doesn't need science to be spiritual is not saying that one can't be spiritual with science.
Although I think in general native people who live closer to the workings of nature have greater respect / spiritual feelings about it than most western scientists, I am not saying that western scientists lack *any* such feelings.
Martino, I didn't mention "metaphysical experience" because it may be just as hard to define as "spiritual" is. Once we get into this category of experiences, we need quite a few different words anyway, not all experiences are exactly the same, but I guess I am still happy to add them to my list as a category. They are experiences, though, not beliefs. One may or may not attach certain beliefs onto them.ReplyDelete
These eliminativist campaigns that occasionally pop up in philosophical discussions have always struck me as silly. Wouldn't it be more productive to discuss Solomon's case than to discuss the popular or cultural use and abuse of certain terms?
Along the same lines, what good does it do to point out that most people oppose the "spiritual" to the "material"? Would you support your favored version of materialism by appeal to common usage? Simply to note that the two terms are "in antithesis" is to fall into a trap set by people who tend to have impoverished views of both.
Isn't the more relevant distinction here that between what I'll simply call the comprehended and the uncomprehended? Looking at the world, "spiritual" ignoramuses tend to like to slide from "uncomprehended" to "incomprehensible" (often enough playing a double-game with those nasty insinuations of a "true" or "revealed" understanding that "materialists" lack). Materialists, for their part, like to slide from "comprehended" to "comprehensible in principle." Although they, unlike their spiritual counterparts, often enough have evidence to back up at least those things that are comprehended, they too often tend to neglect the extent to which advances in our understanding of the world alter the basic conceptual framework that enlivens their various conceptions of "material," and so perpetuate the uninformed view that materialists are simply intellectually arrogant.
What's most curious here is your desire to rid yourself of nonsensical discourse. I, for one, see no clear path from any change in general linguistic practice to that desired result. Good luck, though!
(As usual, enjoyed the post.)
I'd be curious to get your take on Paul Woodruff's book on Reverence. I struggled with it for reasons that are similar to yours here, but I still really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.ReplyDelete
I like the "sense of" nomenclature, e.g. sense of life, sense of wonder, sense of grandeur. I particularly like "sense of grandeur," because it speaks directly to the criticism of materialism = small-minded.ReplyDelete
My favorite term, however, is "Truth Seeker" (capitalized, of course). Science, mathematics, logic, reason, skepticism--not ends in themselves but tools. They're the samurai sword of the Truth Seeker.
"If on your journey, you should encounter God, God will be cut."
That's bordering dangerously on "sham, pretension and hypocrisy" which means it's probably on the right track. :)
You have not yet addressed my core argument that "spiritual wisdom" is not, as popularly conceived, coextensive with "wisdom" and often contradicts it. And that this frees us naturalists to use the label "wisdom", as an alternate to "spiritual", to describe the seeking and attainment of seeing the world as it really is and so gaining the accompanying ability to respond from an directly enlightened epistemically objective point of view.
Great post and comments. I commented as a blog post at arspsychiatrica.blogspot.com.ReplyDelete
I'm no anthropologist but there are many native cultures who have been living much more fully with the natural world than most scientifically educated folks ever willReplyDelete
Sorry, Me, but you are trolling (successfully, since people are answering). And playing straw man. And therefore taking the discussion to irrelevant areas, maybe (or maybe not). Here's why I think so.
You see, if you say something ridiculous to characterize someone's position and then call it ridiculous, well... that hardly counts. The ridiculous thing you did was comparing urban Westerners with indigenous people still living in traditional ways. That's pathetic, I suppose you'd agree on further reflection. I suspect that Chris, smart as he is, wasn't doing that comparison in his original comment. I believe he was actually comparing the scientifically minded (secular or not, maybe) urban Westerner and the next door neighbor, who is pretty much the same type of person, except for the appreciation for reali..., er, I mean, except for the fact that said neighbor thinks everything was simply made by God and scientists are all full of it. You know, like comparing Chris and a !Kung San, instead of comparing Chris and Cal. See the difference in the two types of comparisons? The first is a non-starter, the second can at least be argued about.
If I play the same "apples to oranges" game you did, I could very well say that Inuit are not living as "fully with the natural world" or that their "appreciation for that world" is diminished compared to a Kayapo, because Inuits cannot live in a rain forest. But that would be a stupid thing to say, wouldn't it?
I have two words:ReplyDelete
First is wholeness. Good books, good music, good friends and connection with nature makes one whole. For our society, especially the mind numblingly uniform wasteland of American suberbia, people severely lack wholeness. Which could be interpreted as a lack of "sprituality".
The second word is ecological. Only because one of the fundanmental facts we learn from ecology is that all things are connected. Understanding and appreciating the connections between us and the rest of the world (universe even) is very intellectually and emotionally satisfying.
So why did you put "spiritual" in your profiles? Did it then mean something other than what it means to you now?ReplyDelete
We have briefly discussed this problem in our group here in town once. A few people thought you can use the word "spiritual" even being a naturalist (no supernatural). But most agreed that it is confusing, given the meaning that everybody gives to the word in everyday conversations. I'm now thinking of proposing the theme for a full blown meeting to probe deeper into what the folks have to contribute...ReplyDelete
So the point is not that we naturalists don't have, in some circumstances, that feeling called "spiritual". I suspect I do have the same feeling, although I can't tell for sure (can't be in someone's head, and I don't have an MRI machine...). I suspect everyone does. But I can NOT use the word "spiritual" (and cognates) when describing my experiences, given the definition of the words. These definitions imply causes that other feeling names do not. When you say you are happy or proud or angry, what's implied beyond the feelings? Nothing. When you are spiritual? Any normal person will relate that to religious feelings of some sort. That's unacceptable to me.
Etymology, philosophy, etc. mean squat when you're just having a conversation. What matters is how people use words. So, inspiring or aspire or respiration all have the same root as spirit, true. But nobody equates them with supernatural stuff.
From the cheapo dictionary I have here:
spirit n [ME, fr. OF or L; OF, fr. L spiritus, lit., breath, fr. spirare to blow, breath] 1: a life giving force; also: the animating principle : soul 2 cap: holy spirit 3: specter, ghost 4: person 5: disposition, mood 6: vivacity, ardor 7: essential or real meaning : intent 8: distilled alcoholic liquor 9: loyalty (school ~)
spiritual adj 1: of, or relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit : incorporeal 2: of or relating to sacred matters 3: ecclesiastical rather than lay or temporal -- spirituality n -- spiritualize vb -- spiritually adv
(I know, definition by dictionary and all that, but dictionaries record the common usage of words, and that's my point)
So, the different meanings are given in order of commonality. Spiritual does not even get defined as anything "naturalistic", to begin with. Spirit is a bit more flexible, but not much. So, if you're talking about my favorite alcoholic drinks, you could say I'm spiritual in at least some (quite unorthodox) sense of the word... :-)
On thinking about it there are quite a few words and phrases to use. The problem with spiritual is it is .. ahem.. a reified unification of these experiences and actions. Drop the reified unification and you have a number of distinct terms such as: wisdom, awe, enlightened (in the Enlightenment sense not the new age sense), at one with nature, transcend (as in gaining epistemic objectivity) and so on.ReplyDelete
Drop the fallacious reification and there is no single term needed to replace all the related meanings for a naturalist. To think we require a single term is a mistake.
Just think of whatever specific meaning of spiritual is being used and use an alternate without the overt supernatural connotations. This includes claiming back words like enlightened and transcend for newagers?
my wife and I used the word "spiritual but not religious" in our profiles hoping to cast a wider net than just "atheist." It worked, despite the pile of emails from new agers... :)
To get back to the question...ReplyDelete
spiritual/spirituality --> introspective/introspection, as I don't think that it's possible to be spiritual without being introspective.
soul --> essence, which doesn't carry such obvious overtones of an afterlife.
I'm sorry I must have misunderstood Chris when he wrote:
"So yes, I am "afraid" (actually, unwilling) to concede common ground on this point with "spiritual" or "religious" people because they can't possibly appreciate the natural world as fully. That doesn't make them unethical, but I believe their lives are impoverished for it."
I thought that when he said "spiritual" or "religious" people he was talking about all spiritual or religious people, rather than as you point out, spiritual or religious western educated modern people.
It might have something to do with the fact there are a lot of natives where I live and they are my neighbors. When I hear the word 'people' I assume all humans are included unless there is some specification otherwise.
I think it would have helped this discussion of the term spirituality to have broadened the scope and generality across all of humanity. Unless, that is, the idea was just to determine how someone like Massimo can find a Significant Other more efficiently.
bob solomon has previously worked on hegel, and his work should probably be read in that light. this may clear up some of the clutter around the term 'spirituality' and as such to understand the conceptual distinction that solomon uses.ReplyDelete
I want to address Massimo's question: "Therefore, dear readers, what would you suggest we use as alternative words for terms like “spiritual” and “soul”?"ReplyDelete
To start, a reply to paul01:
"Even though the word spiritual comes with a lot of baggage, I feel it may be too handy as a pointer to do without." - paul01
While I understand this point of view, I do think that there are other, if not better pointers, that are just as handy. I say that they might be better because they carry less mystic baggage than the word "spiritual". We can use "appreciative," "compassionate," or maybe even "inspired" as modifiers for our non-belief/non-religiousness.
"Spiritual," on the other hand, is just not necessary to use. It can certainly be seen to suggest "appreciative," "compassionate," "inspired," etc., but the fact that it also indicates belief in a spiritual realm can just make things confusing instead of clarifying. By saying "non-religious but spiritual," it can mean a few different things. It can mean that you don't prescribe to organized religion, but that you do believe in a spiritual realm. It can mean that you are an atheist or agnostic who happens to also believe in supernatural phenomenon, just not a god. If neither of those is true, you can easily become littered with interest from new age folk, like what happened in Massimo's e-dating example.
I think that if the point of using labels like this is to clarify our perspective to others via a nice little package, then it makes no sense to use a word like "spiritual" which clouds the depiction of your worldview instead of clarifying it.
And to the argument that we need to use "spiritual" to free it from its extra baggage: that simply isn't going to work. The new age folk and supernatural believers "have" this word, and I say let them have it; we don't need it.
"I confess that I feel quite spiritual when reading Nietsche or Schopenhauer. And also when tasting haute cuisine." - Andrea
I took a fantastic Creativity class a few years ago (Creativity in all aspects of life and thought, not just art), and one of the main themes of the course was the "aesthetic experience," which is, I think, what Andrea is talking about here. It's that feeling of being really inspired by and connected to something; enjoying something in a way that makes you happy to be alive, or motivates you to get up and do something, to interact with the world. It's completely unnecessary and, frankly, misleading, to give this experience the label of "spiritual" when spirits don't add into it.
To directly tackle your question in list form, Massimo:
appreciative, compassionate, inspired, optimistic, hopeful, curious, introspective, respectful/in-awe of nature/the world, intrigued, fascinated
I'm thinking that these could be used alone or in conjunction with "non-religious," and anyone can pick or choose which apply best to themselves. Another point: Maybe instead of saying "non-religious BUT," we could use "non-religious AND." It might serve to take away from some of the negative connotations of "non-religious."
Reading the above comments, I echo the thoughts of thinkmonkey, but I wanted to actually try to make a list of better labels, not actually having done so previously. And apologies if I repeated anything; I started skimming over the dialogue with Joanna.
An interesting tidbit: one of me's comments states, "spirituality (=awe/appreciation/respect for nature)." The simple fact that the author of this comment had to redefine the word "spirituality," supports succinctly my/others' entire point.